Frontier Airlines, American Airlines, and Delta Air Lines must pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines after the Department of Transportation found the carriers violated consumer protection rules related to refunds, disability assistance, and other issues.
The DOT announced that Frontier will pay $400,000 for violating oversales and disability rules, American $250,000 for failing to make timely refunds to passengers, and Delta will pay $200,000 for filing inaccurate baggage reports.
Frontier’s fine was initiated after the DOT found that the airline failed to seek volunteers before bumping passengers involuntarily from flights.
Additionally, the airline failed to provide these involuntarily bumped passengers with written notice of their rights, and failed to provide proper compensation in a timely manner.
According to the DOT [PDF], this put Frontier in violation of its overbooking rule, a measure that has come under scrutiny in recent months after a United passenger was forcibly dragged off an overbooked flight.
Under the rule, airlines are allowed to sell more tickets for a flight than there are seats available on the aircraft to be used for that flight. This, the agency contends, allows carriers to fill seats that would otherwise have remained empty due to “no shows,” thereby achieving operational efficiencies.
However, in order to sell additional seats on already full planes, airlines must provide compensation and other protection to passengers.
The DOT says that it found “substantial evidence” indicating Frontier did not comply with the rules, after receiving more than 200 complaints from Frontier customers in 2014 and 2015.
In addition to violating the overbooking rule, the DOT says that Frontier failed to provide passengers with a disability prompt and adequate wheelchair assistance in enplaning and deplaning aircraft and moving within the terminal, and did not adequately respond to complaints filed by passengers with disabilities.
The DOT received 375 disability complaints from Frontier passengers in 2014 and 2015, many occurring at the airline’s hub in Denver.
Frontier says that it takes compliance with the DOT’s regulations seriously. The airline says that it has implemented a number of actions to enhance customer service.
The DOT [PDF] says it levied a $250,000 fine against American after finding the company failed to process refunds requests in a timely manner.
Under DOT regulations, airlines must provide a refund seven days after receiving all required documentation for credit card purchases, and 20 days for cash purchases. Failing to do so is considered an unfair and deceptive practice.
The agency initiated an investigation into American’s refund practices in 2016 after receiving multiple consumer complaints.
The investigation found that in the first and second quarters of 2015 American failed to process a significant number of refund requests in a timely manner.
American says in a response to the DOT’s findings that it takes compliance with consumer protection regulations seriously, and notes that it is committed to providing timely refunds to customers.
The carrier blamed the issues on its merger with US Airways, claiming that the companies were combining their refund and customer relation systems during the time of the complaints.
Delta Air Lines
Delta must pay $200,000 for underreporting the number of mishandled baggage reports it received from passengers to the DOT.
By underreporting the issues, the DOT claims that Delta received a higher rating in the agency’s Air Travel Consumer Report rankings.
Under DOT rules, airlines must report, on a monthly basis, information about the number of mishandled baggage reports — including lost luggage, damaged, bags, and delayed bags — it receives from passengers.
According to the agency [PDF], for a significant period of time, Delta had a problematic internal policy that noted if an agency could not settle a mishandled baggage claim with a customer, the agency was required to create a claim. However, if the agent was able to settle the issue by providing a replacement bag no claim was made.
Delta acknowledged the issue with the policy in a statement to the DOT. Still, the carrier says that the issues were limited. It has since replaced the policy, claiming that its rankings likely would not have been different had the omitted claims been reported.